Kerry’s $895 Billion Waffle

Published May 1, 2004

During his campaign for the Democratic Party nomination for President, Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) took a narrowly defined position on health care reform, carefully avoiding anything that looked like a re-run of the failed Clinton reform project. Now, with an apparent lock on the nomination, he begins to sound more and more like his Massachusetts colleague, Ted Kennedy.

Another 100-Day Plan

In statements to the media and posted on his campaign Web site (, Kerry takes an incremental road to national health care, going in the opposite direction of the rapidly growing trend toward consumer-driven care.

In his first 100 days as President, Kerry promises, he would present Congress with what he calls a “realistic plan” to stop spiraling health care costs, insure every child in America, and make it possible for every American to get the same health care as any Member of Congress.

Kenneth Thorpe, health care economics professor at Emory University and former Clinton administration official, estimates the likely cost to taxpayers of the Kerry plan would be $895 billion over 10 years. There is roughly $230 billion in the Kerry proposal to subsidize reimbursements for employers with health insurance plans, and $665 billion for programs targeted at people without insurance.

Kerry’s campaign commercials deny the plan would cost $900 billion. But in a March interview on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, PBS reporter Margaret Warner said to Kerry, “your plan totaled, as scored by an independent authority [Kenneth Thorpe], $900 billion over 10 years.” Kerry responded, “Yes.”

Kerry has said he will pay for his 100-day health care plan by repealing the Bush tax cuts only for Americans with annual incomes more than $200,000. IRS data show that move would bring in only $250 billion over 10 years–about $650 billion less than Kerry needs. To fully fund his plan would require that Kerry repeal the Bush tax cuts in their entirety, leading to a tax increase for all Americans–a prospect Kerry has yet to admit.

Liberal Waffles

Following Kennedy’s lead, Kerry has dusted off the old liberal goal of forcing all employers to provide health insurance. Kerry focuses on the employer mandate for political reasons, not health care reasons. He wants the labor union vote … and labor wants at least employer mandates, and ideally single-payer health care.

Kerry would increase taxpayer-funded corporate welfare by reimbursing health plans 75 percent of the catastrophic costs above $50,000. This cost will be shifted to taxpayers and create an incentive to dump high-cost employees onto subsidized taxpayer health insurance. This is more waffle. Kerry has said in the past he wants to reduce corporate welfare.

Another waffle: Kerry says he supports expanding the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB) to private citizens … yet he sides with fellow Democrats seeking to amend the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 because it begins the process of extending the FEHB to private citizens on Medicare.

Kerry also seeks to extend eligibility in the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP) to young adults age 24 or under. Expansion of this entitlement is pure pandering–an effort to get the youth vote by offering free health insurance at taxpayer expense.

Analyze This

While Kerry appears to come down on both sides of the health care issue at the same time, his voting record clearly defines the man.

According to a summary by the Congressional Quarterly, Kerry voted in lockstep with Kennedy in each of 10 years between 1985 and 2001. Over the course of his career, Kerry has sided with Kennedy 94 percent of the time when key votes were taken on Kennedy’s favorite cause: national health care.

Kerry has supported the Patient Bill of Rights, mental health parity, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, to name a few. Each of those measures imposes or would impose significant unfunded regulatory and procedural mandates on health care providers and the health insurance industry. Research has proven such mandates increase overall health care costs and health insurance premiums, which in turn fuels the uninsured rate.

You can flip it and you can flop it, but you can’t hide Kerry’s waffle. His voting record indicates Kerry would pass more of the very legislation that has contributed to the nation’s health care angst.

Conrad F. Meier is managing editor of Health Care News. His email address is [email protected].